What little background you do need to know is laid out in a flashback prologue, set before the action of the first film: BroZone, a group of five singing brothers, implodes due to the controlling behavior of the oldest, John Dory (voice of Eric André). The baby of the group, Branch (Justin Timberlake), is left to fend for himself.
Fast-forward to the present day. Branch, now grown, has put his boy-band days behind him, hiding his siblings and his past from his effervescent girlfriend, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) — until John Dory shows up pleading for help: Their brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) has been kidnapped. Through magical means that are never fully questioned or explained, it seems that Velvet and Veneer (Amy Schumer and Andrew Rannells), a talentless brother-and-sister singing duo, have managed to literally bottle Floyd up in a diamond spray container, spritzing his musical gifts on themselves to advance their careers. (Please don’t ask this to make sense.) The only way to shatter the diamond and save their brother is for BroZone to reunite and hit the perfect, harmonious note, as a family.
Thus begins a journey to get the band back together, all while pushing a message of sibling love and acceptance.
The biggest draw, beyond Kenan Thompson’s transcendence in the role of hip-hop singer Tiny Diamond, is the music. Catchy, upbeat and danceable, the film’s songs had kids wiggling in their seats. Although it doesn’t always propel the story along, the jukebox-musical aspect of the film means that parents get to enjoy real music — i.e., made for grown-ups — as they watch. (’N Sync reunited to record the original song “Better Place” for the film.)
The colors and textures in this animated world might send some viewers into a sugar coma, but it’s perfect for kids who grew up on “Paw Patrol.” In one scene, Poppy, Branch and John Dory venture to a tropical island to find one of the brothers, where they wade through “water” with the consistency of Orbeez gel beads, surrounded by trees that look like they’re made from pool noodles. This creative choice — to use everyday objects as scenery — further feeds the sense of late-’90s/early-aughts nostalgia. Like the many one-liners, everything feels geared toward millennial parents.
Gone are the days of explaining who Mr. T is and why he is pitying the fool. Now you have to explain why JD (short for John Dory) sounds a lot like JT. (Because that’s what people used to call Justin Timberlake, back when Mom first thought about getting her lower-back tattoo.) “Trolls Band Together” may just be three boy-band puns in a trench coat, not living up to the emotional payoff or acclaim that met the first two films. But it does represent a change in the zeitgeist.
Is “Trolls” a little commercial? Does it feel like it’s trying too hard to sell toys for the holidays? Yes and yes. DreamWorks Animation, the production studio behind the films, has owned the toy brand since 2013. “Barbie” it isn’t. But if you have to watch something 300 times in a row, you could do a lot worse.
PG. At area theaters. Contains some mild rude and suggestive humor. 92 minutes.